Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Chromebooks and the Ookygoo

I've just tweeted a link to the NZ Herald's review of the Samsung Chromebook, ie Samsung's new laptop designed for the Chrome environment.

In the Chrome environment you have a browser and you run applications in the browser, and store files on the web. Your laptop is not actually a standalone local computer but is in fact an internet terminal.

Exactly how we've been using our Ookygoo, our Asus travel computer for years - purely because the dumbed down interface didn't allow for a lot of flexibility we didn't really use any of the local applications portfolio, with the exception of using the factory installed version of OpenOffice a couple of times at conferences to deal with long complex documents. Most time loading stuff into GoogleDocs is more than adequate.

Also being fundamentally stateless it's an excellent way to work - your data is elsewhere, files are uploaded to somewhere in the cloud, meaning that if the laptop is broken or stolen you havn't lost your data. It's just like having a portable diskless workstation of old, with all the advantages and disadvantages of that - the advantage being is that your data is accessible from any internet connected device that supports a reasonably recent browser, the disadvantage is that you do need that recent browser (and why the ppc imac ceased to be my home desk machine) and that internet connection

Where the Ookygoo scores, and my newer windows based netbook is better, is that it is possible to do stuff locally, or more accurately, where you don't have wifi access.

And this is the rub. One thing that my various experiments with Evernote have taught me is that the ability to have a local document cache is key. If you work with documents, be they copies of emails, pdf's, word files or whatever you need a local copy to add files to and modify. In essence what you need is a dropbox style filestore where you can sync when you get back online. That way you can work on a plane say, and know that you can sync as soon as you get to your hotel, and that the documents will be there in the cloud and shareable with colleagues.

And the lack of this offline capability is probably the greatest downfall of the Chromebook model. It's reliant on good wifi (or 3G) access. Now good wifi access is spotty, as free (as in beer) access is limited for most people to work, home, and just possibly the coffee shop on the corner, with paid for hotspot or 3G internet access being a pretty expensive option on a regular basis, especially if you roam between networks. Certainly my experience with the Ookygoo has shown me that you can do pretty well with access in hotels and coffee shops, but it's often not good enough for serious work on the road.

So, love to play with one, and I think it's great as a travel computing option, but I'm not convinced as to its long term usability as a work solution, especially where there is a substantial offline component - on the other hand it would make a great low maintenance for environments like schools where IT support can be minimal at best, and kids only go from home to school and vice versa, and with all the data stored in the cloud, the 'cat ate my laptop' style dramas are avoided ...

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